The bowl season is now starting to wind down. After the New Year’s Day frenzy—six contests in about a 12-hour span—we’re down to a half dozen games remaining, one each for the next six days.
I have to admit, last night was depressing for me. Not so much because of all the Big Ten losses (the Legends and Leaders could muster only one victory in five games), but because I had to watch another Rose Bowl as a Minnesota fan with no reason to be in Pasadena.
It was a late afternoon game like every other one I remember seeing on television—sparkling blue sky, San Gabriel Mountains in the distance, fans in short sleeves sitting in what looks to be a fabulous stadium… and I was left watching the bleeping Badgers play for the third straight year.
Even with Barry Alvarez coaching (a man I like infinitely better than Bret Bielema), it was easy to root against the Badgers, so I took some measure of delight when Stanford celebrated a 20-14 victory at the final gun.
Still, it was depressing. It’s now 51 years and counting since the Gophers’ last trip to Pasadena.
So I’m turning my thoughts to more pleasant things, and that leads me to part 2 of my Bruce Smith post. Part 1, which published on December 8, the day of the Heisman Trophy presentation, talked about Smith winning the Heisman in 1941 and how his acceptance speech also addressed the attack on Pearl Harbor a couple of days prior.
Now I want to tell you about Bruce Smith the actor, and the movie he starred in, “Smith of Minnesota.” Here were the movie poster taglines promoting it in 1942:
HAVE A SEAT ON THE 50-YARD LINE…FOR THE THRILL-PACKED, REAL-LIFE DRAMA OF A GREAT ALL-AMERICAN! (original poster-all caps)
See this triple-threat bolt of greased lightning hit a new high for red-blooded entertainment! (original poster)
AMERICA’S FAVORITE FOOTBALL SON ROMPS TO TRIUMPH ON THE SCREEN! (original poster-all caps)
Thanks to a great connection at the University of Minnesota, I was able to casually obtain a copy of “Smith of Minnesota” a few years ago. I’ve watched parts of it a number of times, but this was the first year I watched the 66-minute film in its entirety.
The year is 1942, and in the offices of Columbia Pictures a movie exec has tabbed his best writer to tell the story of Bruce Smith, the Heisman Trophy winner from Minnesota the year before.
The writer, Charlie Hardy, doesn’t want any part of this script. He doesn’t particularly like football and he thinks all stories about football follow a finite number of boring formulas, all concluding with a touchdown in the last minute.
But the exec is selling him on Smith, the player and athlete, and his school, the University of Minnesota.
“Minnesota is an institution, not only of higher learning but of championship football teams,” he confidently declares. The first time I heard that line I laughed out loud. Then I remembered that in 1942, Minnesota was wrapping up a stretch of five national championships in eight years—an unprecedented streak of dominance in Division I college football.
Against his wishes, Hardy is sent to Faribault, Minnesota (Los Angeles–style), to meet with Smith and his family. At the bus station, he’s picked up by Gwyn Allen, a reporter from the Faribault Standard newspaper who, like Hardy and the movie executive, is a veritable quote machine.
Given her knowledge of Smith and Gopher football, Hardy says, “Well, you must be quite the football fan, huh?” To which she replies: “I ought to be! I went to Minnesota for four years.”
If only the students of today left with a diploma and that same battle cry.
Later, Hardy queries Allen about Smith’s love life, or in this case, his well-known absence of a love life. “You know, in a picture, it’s really helpful if boy loves girl and vice versa,” he says. “Not new, but good. Now, do you happen to know if Bruce ever had any romance in his young life?”
Allen pipes back: “Listen. Bruce love his family. Loves football. Loves Minnesota. That’s a lot of love for one boy to handle all at once, isn’t it?”
There are gems like that, as well as a boatload of even cheesier lines, sprinkled throughout the movie.
As the film wears on, it captures some of the legends associated with Smith’s life and career. Like that surrounding his dad Lucius, who played for the Gophers in 1910-11 and, upon losing a heartbreaking game to Michigan in 1910, was said to have vowed to have a son that would one day beat Michigan. Check.
There’s also a good amount of game footage from Gopher contests in 1940 and ’41, including the highlight of Smith’s classic 80-yard romp through the mud to beat Michigan at Memorial Stadium in 1940.
All in all, Smith of Minnesota is an entertaining picture, and it’s worth putting on the movie bucket list if you’re a diehard fan… or just in need of a few laughs. I’d even offer to have a viewing party if there was enough interest.
In the end, boy does get girl (with a twist), and Bruce is the hero you’d expect. Just like he was in real life.